Relatives Who Intimidate You Are Toxic: Here Are 5 Ways to Cope With Family Bullies

Written by on October 22, 2017 in Conscious Living, Conscious Parenting, Thrive with 43 Comments

Frustrated Lady

By Katherine Mayfield | Tiny Buddha

“When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~Viktor Frankl

Bullies are everywhere. One of the most insidious and destructive forms of bullying is family bullying, because it’s often done in the name of love.

As someone who was bullied by family members for more years than I care to count, I spent a lot of time learning that most of the bullying going on was not about me or my failings—it was more about what other people needed to unload.

Related Article: UCLA-Led Study Is First to Find a Solution to School Bullying That Actually WORKS

Family bullies often pretend to (or believe they can) help by offering criticism. But a majority of the criticism is usually designed to make the bully feel better rather than to help the victim.

In my family, bullying was the way my parents got rid of their feelings. After years of paying close attention to what was going on under the surface, I finally realized that the more emotions my parents were trying to deny in themselves, the more they put me down.

I also learned that there are ways to minimize the effects of relating to dysfunctional family members, and I’d like to share them with you.

1. Plan your responses ahead of time.

If you know what kinds of comments push your buttons, prepare responses ahead of time that allow you to hold on to your self-esteem.

For instance, if someone always comments on your parenting style, you can say, “I parent my kids according to my own values. I’m sorry if you don’t like it, but that’s what I will continue to do.”

Use “I” messages rather than “you” messages, which means saying “I think” or “I feel” rather than “You always” or “You shouldn’t.” “I” messages keep the focus on what you’re trying to communicate, and are less likely to instigate an argument.

Practice your responses several times when you’re alone so they become automatic. When you’re in the midst of a heated situation, sometimes it’s hard to come up with a response that’s not habitual, so if you practice beforehand, standing up for yourself will begin to become a positive habit.

2. Stand up to the bully without hostility.

One tactic that often works to defuse criticism is to take a strong stance, look the person right in the eye, pause for a moment, and then say, “Excuse me?”

With this phrase, you’re letting the person know that you’re aware they’re putting you down or dumping on you, and you’re not going to take it. But the beauty of this phrase is that it’s not hostile; you’re not adding fuel to the fire or throwing your anger back at the other person.

Related Article: My Teenage Girl Was Bullied – And The Anti-Bullying Remedy That Finally Worked

You do need to take a strong stance, however, maintain eye contact, and say the words very clearly and distinctly. Sometimes this statement will stop the criticizer in his tracks as he steps back in his mind and hears what he actually said.

3. Remove yourself from the situation.

If you find yourself getting sucked into what the person says, take a break and go somewhere private. I used to go in the bathroom and scream silently, shake my hands, and shake my head. It helped to let the tension out of my body. Remind yourself that you don’t have to get caught up in the drama.

It can take some practice over time to remember to take a break, but when you step out of the situation over and over, you’re reminding yourself of your separateness and your awareness of the dysfunction, and validating your desire to stay out of the traps and become mentally healthier.

If you feel a need to leave the situation altogether, you do have the power to do that. People may get upset or yell or threaten you, but you’re not responsible for their feelings—you’re not responsible for calming them down, for solving their problems, or for ignoring your own needs in order to make them happy.

They’ll try to get you under their control again, but the more you pay attention to your own needs and act on them, the more respect you’ll develop for yourself.


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43 Reader Comments

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  1.' Jen Ashton says:


  2.' Fes Sufi Mohammed says:

    Soomy Saleem stop bullying me ?☹️

  3.' Jenny Penny says:

    What about if your psychologist grandmother bullied you growing up?

  4.' Eva Czerwonka says:

    Dominik Marszal we BOTH need to read this, LOL

  5.' Amber Nicole says:

    Best to just ignore the fuck out of them and live your life

  6.' Lenae LaCas says:

    Just slap them bitches upside the head!

  7.' Rebecca Miller says:

    Mine has to do more with being deceiful continually, I forgive them in order to have peace for myself, but things done are beyond repair so best to let it go so i can move on with my life, just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean you have to allow them in your life, some situations are better this way, hope this can help a few of you on here

  8.' Kael Moreau says:

    What about the ones that rape u

  9.' Debbie Beach says:

    I have work Bullies

  10.' S.. Fff says:

    I don’t always get directly bullying type transactions, though I have before on certain occasions….and to be frankly honest much of the time, I don’t think they are fully aware of what they are doing or have done, that can push buttons or be erosive at boundaries,, toxic, manipulative, or invalidating at times.

    What’s sometimes hard to deal with at times is if you pick up on certain energies or subcontious attitudes or transactions that are completely human and harmless, no one’s fault persay but that they insinuate attitudes and/or certain kinds of game playing that you don’t want to get wrapped up in or be part of, would rather avoid or not feel so much or if you wish it were different or could be and can’t do much about it.

    Im usually very very open minded or can be and try my best…I’ve always been, but the subcontious, indirect, or implied button pushing games, manipulations, fallacies, distortions, biases, attempts to control or throw fits or have ones own way or not or do the victim villain thing or get others involved by proxy or minimize or invalidate you or neglect you or criticize you, or attempt to make you think or feel this way or that way…on subcontious game playing manipulative like transactions, assumptions, that no one is necessarily always if at all intending to do on purpose…or even aware they are doing… sometimes a lot to handle….and it’s worse when others get involved and minimize your views represent theirs from a bias of what they were told or how it was said when the situation has changed or wasn’t exactly like that, where debates of emotional blackmail or minimizing happen and what you should be or shouldn’t be or what they do or don’t do with a comparison to their relationship with someone else is brought up in a way that invalidates your experience or biases favours with an emotional appeal and personalized experience weather or not what you say or feel is true or valid enough.

    If you keep talking about it a subject change may happen or further invalidation, comparisons, or justifications and sometimes lightly biased realities or seemingly slightly cognitively distorted or fallacious in structure just a bit, and if you give up and don’t say anything there’s this intense need for distance or to keep things on a certain level which is very simple.

    If you agree your “repentance is welcomed” and if you disagree attempts to address the issue beyond reasonable fairness or overly exasperating it may be made possibly directly or indirectly or through others, if not that neglect, proxy social transactions and removal almost completely of intimacy if not withheld and or possibly more criticisms or a passive or indirect threat which may be contious or subcontious….

    When a lot of it happens subcontiously or passively, you can’t blame them persay but if it’s too much or excessive it can leave you feeling like an alien, as though it’s just not a place you really belong in very much….especially if realities get altered or biased just a tad or your attitudes or feelings weather or not its how you realy felt or thought ever or they do get handed to you but…

    …like a multiple choice option for how they will deal with you implied, indirect, or direct, contious or not some of the stigmas, biases, predjudicess, behaviours, attitudes, reservations implied or seemingly at times assumed too much….

    …i dont know if I’m describing this very well…sometimes it’s really subtle little little things or buttons and even references that jot just anyone would get except you and that or those people…other times it has been or was excessive and a lot and escalated.

    I don’t know if I’m describing this very well…i dont know if I can come up with the right words or descriptions. I just haven’t quite known how to deal with it or what to do and sometimes I have felt as though I’ve had to choose between being a good daughter, sister, aunt, family member in general or taking care of me like I can’t always have both unless it’s on certain terms sometimes subcontiously implied by some of the games seemingly that are almost impossible to disarm or avoid or address or have proven on multiple occasions to be futile or seemingly hopeless to address or attempt to address, or better to just accept and not react to with a lot of inner peace and love towards yourself and them just being human together or to walk away or keep a good distance to have room or space enough to preserve your identity or feel better with the boundaries….

    ….ummm when this stuff happens or has a lot over years or over the entire time of knowing certain family members and the transactions between each other and to you it can be condescending, demeaning, and hurtful…it can be disrespectful and controlling even when it’s not intended and confronting it or attempting to often means you’re the one with the problem more than them because you thought of them that way or said or did something they didn’t like or that conflicted with their reality of how they see themselves and or you with too much cognative dissonance..

    I don’t know if I can quite explain or describe this. I just have felt sometimes hopeless as to what to do or not do with it over years and growing up. I’m distant and prefer it though I could get closer in my own time in certain ways depending and sometimes I feel self contious like society may or may not accept me or might judge me or have predjudices for not being someone who is very very close to my main family I came from or who wasn’t very much much of the time…..

    Idk…I’ve been at a bit of a loss as to what I can or can’t do, what kind of feelings or attitudes I can work on or can’t here and how much of it is just an issue of acceptance and letting go of it to not let it effect how I choose to live or feel too much or coexist with it better…

    Idk…maybe time heals all wounds…maybe it’s just an issue of time and enlightenment, personal growth, light and love all around.

  11.' Colleen Mary McCann says:

    I dont have bully issues what I have is someone I had to completely cutoff due to her extreme negative life choices that affected me. Now it’s having to deal with the bullshit comments and actions to get my attention. It’s not that I don’t love or care about her, I just have no time for nonsense when an adult can’t adult in life.

  12.' Lori Iwan says:

    Do not associate with these people. You did not choose your family. Why get together pretending you are one big loving happy bunch?

  13.' Diana Vilchis - Novotny says:

    Claudia Rodriguez

  14.' Shafeeq Mk says:

    Pods patti

  15.' Pamela Bramley says:

    I believe nearly every family experiences this at one time or another. These tips are good. Hold your ground, Be in your own body fully and use I words to counter.

  16.' Lina Caruana says:

    I met an achetype of such a bully. Not only but is also an uninvited intruder. My advice to “fikkanasos” is to shy away when they are bribed by these persons because to intrude into other people’s family is so base.

  17.' Lina Caruana says:

    you know that psychologists have problems

  18.' Tim Gordon says:

    Veronique Gordon

  19.' TJ Henry says:

    Really? Tonight this gets posted…lol

  20.' Sandra Harris says:

    My so called ex best friend was is a major bully. She bullies on Facebook, then deletes it once she has done her damage, she bullies her boyfriend making him do what she wants and he doesn’t get a say on anything. She dictates where he works, how much money he should be making. She is a goal control freak and major bully. She was back in primary school and she is 42 now and she still is.

  21.' Emily Olmstead says:

    Ange Gleeson

  22.' Francie W. Gannon says:

    Yep, had one of these in a close family relationship for the first 50 years of my life. When my Mom died, so did this relationship. I’ll never go back. It’s a relief.

  23.' Lisa Joe says:

    Stand up for yourself that’s all you can do

  24.' Jacklynn F Reeves says:

    Allison Hicks

  25.' Kathy Orton Morris says:

    Sami Morris – read this. It sounds like ways to handle your dad

  26.' Tracy Ward says:

    My own mother is my worst enemy , and youres as well ask who I am? Then ask my father who seats @the route of evil.

    •' CHEF B says:

      This definitely adds to the article and is completely relevant. I love the part where the one guy called me an asshole then punched me in the face. Not even sure how that’s possible considering that this is just a video. Must be chem trails. #JohnBrassilForPresident

  27.' Juliet Seer Pazera says:

    Ughhhhh! Yes! Teasing can be a form of bullying! Lower vibration people!

  28.' MaryAnn Durrett-Lloyd says:

    “What doesn’t kill you, makes you Stronger!” So Sad, but True! ?

  29.' Bonnie Case says:

    5 Ways to Cope with Family Bullies (and other bullies also)
    “People who are regularly criticized by others tend to be very critical of themselves, as well”… “When you leave a difficult situation, leave it all behind you”… Pay attention to your own needs and desires—they’re absolutely just as important as anyone else’s.”.
    “When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~Viktor Frankl
    “Have compassion for yourself, and treat yourself with kindness”… “Most of us are actually doing a better job at everything than we think we are—no matter what anyone else believes or says”.

  30.' Patricia Sylph says:

    Just get a PPO from Family court.

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